| ArchNet Place ID
| Variant Names
|| Hotan, Hotian, Hetian, Chotan, Ho tien, Ho-T'ien, Yu-t'ien
|| Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
|| 37 08 N
|| 79 54 E
Hide description of Khotan
The oasis city of Khotan is located in the Xinjiang Province just six miles south of the Taklamakan Desert, which means "desert of no return" in Uygur and is the second largest desert in China. Khotan is also the name of the county and prefecture that administrates much of the area south of the desert. The city itself covers 3,633 square kilometers, dissected by two tributaries of the Hotan River that originate in the Kunlun Mountains to the south. Its altitude, 1,410 meters above sea level, makes it the highest oasis city in the Tarim basin. It is located 520 kilometers southeast of Kashi, 320 kilometers southeast of Yarkand and 1,509 kilometers southwest of Urumqi, the provincial capital.
Khotan has long been an important strategic and trading center between China and Central Asia. Its name translates as "City of Jade," referring to the precious stones and nephrite that were extracted from its rivers and traded on the Jade Route between Mesopotamia and China since the third millennium B.C. The Jade Route later became more active as the southern route of the Silk Road.
The Vijaya, an Aryan people who spoke an early Indian Prakrit language, originally settled Khotan. It is documented in early Prakrit documents as Kustana, or "the Breast of the Earth." The Khotan Kingdom became a major center of Buddhist teaching and ritual during the spread of the religion from India to China in the second and first centuries B.C. The city was invaded in 70 A.D. by Chinese general Pan Ch'ao of the Later Han Dynasty (230-220 A.D.), although it was only briefly administered by China. Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian, who visited Khotan on his way to India in 402, remarked at the large Buddhist population of the city.
In 630, Khotan was taken by the second Tang Emperor Li Shi-Min (627-649). For 120 years, the Chinese ruled the area around the cities of Kashgar, Yarkand, Turfan, and Kucha, with intermittent Tibetan contestation.
After defeat by the Arabs on the Talas River in present-day Kazakhstan in 752, the Chinese were forced to withdraw from Central Asia. The important trading towns skirting the south of the Taklamakan desert became contested between the Tibetans and the Uygurs, who were fleeing the Kyrgyz from the Orhon Valley in Mongolia. Between 791 and 851, the Tibetans were able to take control of Khotan, although, by the tenth century, Khotan became part of the Kashi-based Qarakhanid Uygur Kingdom, the first Islamic Dynasty in China.
A brief rule by the Tibetan Hsi Hsia tribe in the twelfth century was ended with the Mongol invasion in 1219. The entire region was consolidated under the rule of Genghis Khan and trade on the Silk Road flourished with the Pax Mongolica. Marco Polo, visiting Khotan in 1274, noted its importance as a regional trade center and center for cotton production. By the time Muslim Turkish warrior Tamerlane arrived in the fourteenth century, the population of the region (today's Xinjiang) was almost completely Muslim.
In 1678, Khotan fell under the Khoja Khanate who, endorsed by the Ming and Qing Dynasties, ruled the Tarim basin from Kashi through the mid-eighteenth century. In 1760, the Qing Dynasty again retook the entire region, both north and south of the Taklamakan Desert and established small, fortified square towns throughout the Tarim and Jungar basins, which came to be known as Jangishar, in contrast to the old cities, Kunashar. This practice was also employed at Khotan, where a fortress was built about half a kilometer to the west of the old city.
In 1862, Khotan managed to break away from Qing control, as did many parts of Xinjiang, engaged in the Muslim Rebellion. During its brief period of independence, it was ruled by a local khanate. W. H. Johnson, who visited Khotan in 1867, describes it as a center for silk, felt, carpet, cotton, and paper production. Johnson writes that at this time the Khan resided in the Jangishar which had a five foot high outer wall and a twenty foot high inner wall. Like Shaw and Hayward, two British explorers who visited Yarkand, Johnson was put up in the fortress and not allowed to venture into the old city. However, he still wrote of the courtyard houses in the new fort, which were built of mud and wood, with doors and windows covered in latticework like houses he had seen in Kashmir. He wrote of a mud wall that was being constructed around the old city (then known as Ilchi or Iltschi), which was to be twenty-five feet tall and twenty feet thick. The Khan had an army of six-thousand soldiers, in addition to numerous watchmen who patrolled the streets.
In 1878, the region was once again annexed by China and renamed Xinjiang, or New Territory. By the time of Aurel Stein's visit in 1901, an estimated 5,000 people lived in the old city of Khotan with an additional 35,000 who populated the new city and its immediate surroundings. The old town was said to have twenty mosques, seven madrasas and several shrines.
The distinct ethnic and cultural identity of people in the Xinjiang Province continues to be a point of tension between the local leaders and the Chinese government. A major rebellion led by Tungan Ma Chung-Ying from 1928 to 1937 established the Uygur territories as the Islamic Republic of Eastern Turkestan or, Tunganistan. In 1935, explorer Ella Maillart noted that the city had its own mint located in a "Chinese house" on the main road, issuing Tungan bank notes printed on mulberry bark paper. The Islamic Republic was annulled by provincial warlord Sheng Shih-Ts'ai in 1943 in coalition with the U.S.S.R. After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the province was renamed Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as a gesture towards Uygurs, who constitute a large majority in the cities and countryside of the southern Tarim basin. However, the Xinjiang Province is still considered East Turkestan by separatist Uygur groups.
Although Khotan has not been industrialized like the cities of northern Xinjiang Province, an airport was built on the outskirts of the city in 1957. Nephrite is still mined and the production of silk, rugs and carpets has continued. The population of the city today is about 75,000 people.
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